The Ad Exec: Slowing advertising’s talent churn
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) At corporates across the world, there is an elite group of career stalwarts who have spent the better part of their lives dedicated to the service of one organisation (and, often, one brand). What with scalable opportunities for progression both locally and internationally, these businesses offer a full and prosperous career to those who have the commitment to go the distance.
In comparison, the handful of career advertising men and women is a far more select group.
While 20 years ago it was considered a new and exciting career vocation, just 10 years ago an aspiring executive would happily leave a role with just two or three years below their belt. Today, the only ‘careering’ millennial execs are doing is in and out of agency and brand roles on whatever progressive trajectory they see fit.
Uncontrolled, ambitious and seemingly unconcerned with risk, young talent is making it very hard for agencies in particular to maintain consistency, deliver creative quality and build meaningful relationship with clients.
Compounded by what has become a full-out war for top minds, the promiscuous nature of the new marketing generation has serious implications for the future of an industry fuelled by intellectual capital.
Cause and effect
The first thing we need to acknowledge is that the idea of a career in the traditional sense is a thing of the past. There are enough examples of rags-to-riches dropout stories to prove that, in the modern economy, entrepreneurial flair can take you all the way.
With a hunger to progress, the notion of paying one’s dues has become irrelevant. In many instances, this creates a dangerously entitled sequence of lateral and diagonal moves across the industry until a vertical opportunity presents itself, while agencies vie for the top talent spoils, almost regardless of cost.
The nett result is a well-paid, young and fairly inexperienced set of talented but unproven people on either side of the client-agency fence. And, as with most things, the truth will out. At some point, these people will fall short when put to task and likely resort back to ‘onward’ movement to evade their reality.
A better future for all
Agency churn is on the up and the warning signs are on the wall for the industry. I believe our talent philosophy has to adapt in order to stem the flow; take a strong stance as to whom we let through our doors; create a stable base through clearly communicated expectations; and treat staff properly once they are welcomed aboard.
Personally, when reviewing CVs, one of the first things I do is map the time spent by candidates in each of their roles. When a clear pattern of short-term movement emerges, I’m far less likely to take the interview.
If this approach were shared by the majority of agencies, the perception of an ‘easy in’ would evaporate, placing more emphasis upon creating a CV that demonstrates the delivery of a body of work, rather than an array of impressive agency names.
The agency’s responsibility
Once hired, the agency is responsible for creating the right conditions for retention, beginning with adequate tools to do the job, an inspirational and vibrant working environment, a well-suited work-match and the right level of perks and cultural activities to bond new members to the team.
Equally important are the sharing of accurate and detailed expectations for the new employees in their roles, including measurement metrics. You can’t hold people accountable if they don’t know what accountability looks like!
Investment in training is also vital, even in the face of a fast-moving staff base. Avoiding this investment will stifle not only your own talent development, but also hinder the industry in the long run.
Protect the integrity
Ultimately, as leaders we must be steadfast and protect the integrity of the brands we represent, knowing that, in the game of people, it’s the people with the best people that will win.
Work hard to create an environment that is both challenging and fulfilling, be firm but fair, and never forget that loyalty should be an attribute we all value as much as talent itself.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of Publicis Machine. He contributes the monthly “The Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.
— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every three Monday and Thursday. Sign up here!